Existentialism in times of deep distress

I hear quite a lot about positive psychology and its focus on the good things that make life not just tolerable, but worth living. Meanwhile, we live in a dystopic pandemic and I have read too much Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Dante, Huxley, Camus, and Nietzsche to accept the basis of this psychological movement as the only truth. Then I bumped into Jordan Peterson’s series where chapter 12 talks about some of these authors, and about existentialism. And Jordan is not happy about the positive psychology:

“Happiness is basically extraversion minus neuroticism, and we knew that 15 years ago.”

This means that, if this is true, we need to increase our chances of spontaneous joy and talking about things that interest us, while decreasing withdrawal in the face of uncertainty and being less irritable and upset when things go wrong.

Jordan carries on:

“People are not like the utopians think. We don’t want it easy. We don’t want it comfortable. We don’t want it good. And the reason for that is we’d be bored stiff. “

This, in turn, echoes, Dostoyevsky:

“Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick.”

So maybe, during these immense hardships, it might be the existentialists that can guide us. For the existentialists it is a fact that we are mortal, and vulnerable, and prone to suffering. Inescapably. And that we are willing to pay that price to have a life worth living. And if this is true, then we can turn the suffering of this miserable pandemic into something that makes life worth living. Life is not easy at all. But this is also how we grow. Meanwhile, #fuckcorona! It is a horrible, parallel universe that have changed nearly everything we know and feel. People are dying everywhere and we have never been this lonely and sad. But this is what it is to be human, too.

Let’s end this with Pascal and the existential ‘thrownness’:

“When I consider the brief span of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and behind it, the small space that I fill, or even see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces which I know not, and which know not me, I am afraid, and wonder to see myself here rather than there; for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there, now, rather than then.”

So please remember: We are here now, and we are here together. And as long as we are here, we can help each other. We are still alive.

Photo by Loren Gu on Unsplash

Author: Patrik Bergman

Privately: Father, husband, vegetarian, and reader of Dostoyevsky. Professionally: Works as Communications Manager at www.haldex.com

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